Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale both played key roles in nursing at the Crimean War, yet Nightingale is the one remembered as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ and Seacole is very hardly known. I believe that Seacole was the real ‘Angel of the Crimea’ as she had the personality most like an angel, whereas Nightingale was calculating and logical and didn’t directly care for the troops.

Mary Seacole was the real angel as she didn’t let anything stop her from caring for the troops. She was a Jamaican woman, which she beliecved was the cause of her help being refused at Scutari by Nightingale. Seacole, despite this setback, traveled to the Crimea to set up her own business: the British Hotel. This hotel not only funded essential medical equipment, but provided a place of comfort for the soldiers – her nickname, Mother Seacole, suggests that she had a caring aura…much like an angel. Extracts from her book ‘Wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands’ support this by revealing that she was incredibly hardworking; she woke up early in the morning to make sure that the breakfast was ready for the officers and tea was available for the troops. Seacole also had exceptional knowledge of herbal remedies (taught to her by her mother) and had much experience at treating Cholera – so not only did Seacole try hard, she clearly knew what she was doing. This is further supported by the fact that over 80,000 people attended a charity gala in her honour, and after Seacole returned to England – bankrupt – Queen Victoria supported a committee set up to help her in 1867. Moreover, Seacole was sometimes seen on the battlefield during battle; such a selfless act done to save the lives of the troops. Hence, Seacole was an angel as she did whatever she could to preserve the lives of as many troops as possible, despite the many problems she faced.

On the other hand, Nightingale doesn’t deserve to be called an angel as her personality was quite cold; she was the administrator of Scutari, despite the popular idea that she was the one giving direct care to their patients; hence her nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. You could argue that it was easy for her to get this reputation, and her legacy has been exaggerated due to her social background. She was white and upper-class and her father simply gave her the money she needed; she also received funding from back home in excess of £30,000 during the war and £45,000 afterwards. Seacole never got this financial aid during the war. Despite all of this money, Scutari was still in short supply and death rates didn’t drop. In February 1855 52% of patients died at this ‘death camp.’ If Nightingale was an angel, she would’ve used her funds more for the treatment of these troops and the cleanliness of the hospital, rather than focusing on Scutari’s statistics and making sure her reputation stayed pristine. Nightingale was also never seen going to extra measures to save the troops, like Seacole did; Nightingale never went on the battlefield to treat wounded soldiers and she was so stubborn that she rejected help from good-willed nurses who could’ve helped save more lives, therefore she cannot be considered an angel.

However, Nightingale’s hard work shouldn’t be undermined and she was an angel in some regards. Nightingale had good intentions and it’s indisputable that she wanted to save lives – she was a volunteer so she didn’t have to undertake this role. It also wasn’t expected of her go to war, as social conventions at the time didn’t promote middle-class women entering these ‘unattractive,unladylike’ occupations. The rise of deaths can’t solely be blamed on her: statistics show that deaths dramatically decreased after the Sanitary Commission intervened in March 1855. This late intervention was due to administrative incompetence, of which Nightingale had no control over. The death toll was also so high as there was still no understanding of germ theory, so eventhough Nightingale tried her best it’s quite impossible to cure diseases when nobody has any understanding of the causes. Miasma (the belief that disease was spread by bad smells) was still a deeply rooted belief at the time, so it was unlikely that any new proposals would’ve been accepted. For example, the use of Anesthesia was very limited because it was new and many nurses didn’t want to risk it. Nightingale’s work didn’t stop at Scutari: she did spend the £45,000 wisely in setting up the Nightingale Training School in London in 1860 – the first secular nursing school in the world! She also helped establish the Royal Commission in India, completed in 1863. Being a tough administrator was essential and her use of statistics showed that mortality rate did in-fact drop. So Nightingale was concerned about the death of the troops and was determined to improve conditions; however, I don’t think that she’s an angel as I think she saw troops as numbers on a chart, and was more interested in ways of reducing in these numbers than saving lives.

Mary Seacole may not have been an angel as it is argued that she only set up the British Hospital with the intentions of taking advantage of the troops; she saw a business opportunity in selling the troops the luxuries they missed back home, and cruelly took it. Then her business failed and she became bankrupt, suggesting that she was clueless and incapable of managing finance. She also had no official medical training and the only experience she had was in her herbal remedies; this could’ve endangered the troops she cared for as at times she may not have known completely what she was doing, due to lack of medical knowledge and concrete evidence on the safety of her methods. But I think that Seacole was an angel as she regarded each troop as an individual and showed compassion towards them, and she had good intentions at heart…much like an angel.

In conclusion, I believe that Mary Seacole was the true angel of the Crimea as, although Florence Nightingale achieved more on paper, Seacole was warm-hearted and showed more care towards the troops. She faced many barriers – such as lack of funding and social prejudices – but overcame them due to her desire to care for the troops. She worked extremely hard, risked her life by treating soldiers on the battlefield, and her nickname ‘Mother Seacole’ alone likens her to a caring angel. Her care was even recognised by Queen Victoria! Nightingale was not an angel; she was an effective administrator, creating the Nightingale Training School (the first in the world!) and the Royal Commission in India, and her hard work should be credited. But I think that her legacy has only been so strong, and her importance exaggerated, due to her social background. Presumably, she seemed more concerned in collecting statistics for the hospital and, unlike popular opinion, she didn’t have much face-to-face time with the troops. I am under the impression that she saw the dying troops to be numbers on a chart; not a father, a brother or a son who has a family back home who cares for them. This lack of empathy means that I cannot see Nightingale as an angel, though I do appreciate all she has achieved. Therefore, I believe that Mary Seacole was the true ‘Angel of the Crimea.’

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One thought on “How far do you agree that Mary Seacole was the real angel of the Crimea? [ESSAY]

  1. You make a valid argument in favour of restoring Seacole’s reputation, and I think you are right that Seacole was probably a much more warm hearted person (her autobiography is a joy to read). However, I think you talked previously in one of your other blog posts about the criteria for historical significance, and if we accept that one of those is your impact on the world, don’t you think by the facts you’ve mentioned (e.g. Nightingale’s impact on the training of nurses etc), that she has had a much bigger impact than Seacole? Perhaps like we talked about today, we need to establish what the criteria for being an ‘angel’ is – is it being caring to a few people, or creating institutions that would endure for decades and care for thousands?

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